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Archive for December, 2011

Grace and Grape Juice

In the 27 years since I’ve been a minister, I feel like I’ve made every mistake at least once and had all sorts of things happen to me at least once. I’ve misplaced my sermon in worship, I’ve had to halt a baptism because there wasn’t any water in the baptismal bowl, I’ve read the wrong scripture passage before preaching, I’ve prayed good health for a person had already died, I left off the entire closing portion of a confirmation service, and in a wedding service, I completely forgot about the soloist, concluding the service while he stood waiting—and never getting–to sing. Well, the list goes on and on. So I thought I was on the tail end of “things that happen to me once” until this most recent communion service at church. All seemed to be going well at communion—I had not forgotten my communion words, there were enough elders to serve, elements to be served, and I had just finished serving the elders and was placing the cover on the juice trays. At that moment, I heard a thump, a sound which is not a part of the communion service. Specifically, I heard a thump accompanied by a small gasp and as I looked around to discover the source, much to my horror, I saw that I had overturned the goblet filled with grape juice and a large purple stain was quickly spreading over the handmade white communion cloth. Lots of words were piling up in my head at that moment but I managed to restrain all of them from being piped through the sound system except for the one word, “Ooops!”
Meanwhile, an elder from the choir loft was capturing the juice which was now spilling down onto the sanctuary carpet. Another elder was moving the trays around the table to provide more dry space for the placing of the pledge cards, which came next in the service. It was a horrifying first for me; I hope it is the last!
Although much embarrassed, I nevertheless moved the congregation into the passing of the peace which followed. I was somewhat hesitant to participate because I was so embarrassed by what looked like the world’s largest purple stain on a pure white cloth, so I was slow to move toward the congregation. However, the congregation wasn’t slow to move toward me. I am quite sure we took a bit longer to pass the peace than usual that day, but I was certainly grateful for the hugs and pats and kind words that people shared with me, consoling me or commiserating with me. It truly was peace that was passed, and I led the remainder of the service with such peace in my heart and thanksgiving for folks who don’t value things over people, who seek solutions to the problem rather than dwelling on it. In this case, three ladies of the church helped move that stained cloth from the sanctuary into the parlor sink, and ran cold water over it. I think whether that cloth had been 100 years old or 10 years old, those ladies would have showed the same calm, sensible, kind manner.
At this writing—despite various remedies and even a trip to the dry cleaner—the stain remains visible. It’s no longer purple, but is kind of a grayish blob. Maybe before the next communion service, someone will figure out how to remove that stain. Or maybe that stain will be our visible, constant reminder that at the Lord’s Supper, forgiveness, grace and peace abound.

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